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Adam Butler’s strength inside will make him a bargain pickup for the Patriots

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The Vanderbilt defensive lineman has reportedly signed with the New England Patriots after going undrafted.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Butler started his career as an offensive lineman. It wasn’t until James Franklin flipped him back to the defensive side of the ball that he unlocked his true potential as a pocket-collapsing force in the trenches.

Butler moved all around the defensive line in his four seasons as a starter, ranging from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 nose tackle. Each year, he found a way to make his presence felt, whether that meant chasing down quarterbacks, sealing up holes on running plays, getting a long arm up to block kicks, or consoling forlorn UMass kickers.

Now, he’ll bring those skills to Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots picked up the Vanderbilt defensive lineman as an undrafted free agent on Saturday evening.

At 6’5 and nearly 300 pounds, Butler has the bulk to swallow up running plays but also the length and athleticism to break into the backfield and harass quarterbacks. Though he doesn’t have good straight-line speed — his 40-yard dash time at Vandy’s pro day was a disappointing 5.2 seconds — he’s a resourceful player with the kind of closing burst to bring down ballcarriers in an instant.

Butler was the team’s sack leader in 2016 and ranked among the program’s top three in 2014 and 2015. He racked up 22 tackles for loss over that span, emerging as one of the ‘Dores most consistent defensive presences. His burst off the span and ability to drive blockers backward may not have manifested in big numbers, but it created the gaps that allowed his teammates to make big plays.

However, he may need to add some more weight to avoid getting pushed around by a different breed of blocker in the NFL. At 293 pounds, he’s light for a nose tackle and lacks the athleticism to be a full-time defensive end. He’s versatile enough to serve as a utility player for his rookie season at least, but he’ll need to bulk up in order to cement his place as the anchor in the middle of the Patriots line.

Butler exceeded expectations in Nashville, developing into a fan favorite who found a way to deliver no matter where his team needed him. He’ll bring that versatility and determination to the next level after being signed by the Patriots Saturday.